The Journey of a Dying Patient
Hospice patients come to our care after being cut, burned, and
poisoned. Surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation treatment are the
normative methods of care for most of the patients who enter a
life-threatening disease. Hospital staff members are trained to
be aggressive about curative care.
Hospice care is a phase of care whereby aggressive treatment is
no longer appropriate. Palliative care becomes the norm.
Patients have been probed physically, mentally, and emotionally.
In many ways, patients may be reluctant to any type of care
beyond the experiences that led to his/her doctor sharing that
no more can be done.
The purpose of this article is to claim that much more can be
done. Our Doctors and Nurses are trained to help patients
receive medication that stabilizes and even diminishes pain and
suffering physically. Social Workers are trained to help
patients and families deal with emotional, practical, and legal
issues surrounding loss and grief. Spiritual Counselors help
with the integration of emotional well-being and a sense of
faith and hope beyond one's self-awareness.
The Heart of Care
The heart of care centers it's attention on the needs of the
patient who is dying. Any attempt to move a patient away from
his/her authentic character becomes a war of wills. As we listen
and care for a person just as he/she is, we are allowing a
person to die the way he/she lived. Our ability to meet a person
in unconditional love will draw out the desire to be fully known
by the patient. Here, we are given opportunities to meet him/her
in grace and mercy.
Patients are not a disease. Patients are awakening into soul.
Mary was a strong-willed person who did not want to die. She had
a strong personality. She had many roles she carried out in
life, and she wanted to hold on to them all. She was a mother,
friend, wife, among many other roles.
About two weeks before Mary died, she shared with me that she
became aware of two identities: one was her strong personality
and the other was a presence of peace she could not explain. The
closer Mary came to her dying, the more she could identify with
wanting peace over suffering. This identity with her soul became
more appealing to her than living in a body that was failing
her. She was awakening into her authentic self.
The Heart of Compassion
A dying patient gives up so much in their dying that he/she is
tempted to hold on to what is left in their life. Even if
holding on means more pain and suffering, some patients do try
to do so. As care givers, we need to be sensitive to this aspect
of a patient's letting go process. A patient needs support and
guidance to simply learn to move from letting go (an act of the
will) to letting be (getting into harmony with one's dying). A
person offering care will enter into the heart of compassion by
giving a patient space to enter into this process of moving from
"letting go" to "letting be."
As a person dies, their personality will give way to their soul.
In the process, a heart is broken. This desire to escape a
painful body and embrace peace (one's authentic-self) is
complicated by the desire to remain with those he or she has
loved. This built up tension creates a path one has to choose
inside them that transcends individual and collective conscious
awareness. In essence, this is a matter of survival for the
soul. This path moves a person's soul forward.
Funeral services remind us, it is the soul of a person that draw
us to face death and not the deceased body. These services serve
as a symbol of transition for the loved one who has died and
those reflecting on the life of the deceased. A relationship
that once was created outside us and in the body of another
person no longer applies. Now, relationships with the deceased
are internal and completely within us creating an invisible bond
forever linking our awareness to a spacial quality within us
drawing those left behind deeper into soul.
An Awakened Heart
An awakened heart knows there is more to life than what appears
on the surface.
Dying people lead us to this place where eternal relationships
are forged into the deepest aspects of our nature. It is our
nature to love and feel love. Even grief has the capacity to
deepen our sense of sacredness toward those we love.
A year ago, I gave a talk for the National Hospice and
Palliative Care Organization in Los Angeles, CA. I was gone
about a week. When I returned, my youngest son gave me a big
hug. I missed him and he missed me. I could feel him literally
fill my heart with love. In a real way, my soul was touched by
my son's soul. An awakened heart knows that this is the heart of
In the landscape of the soul, what matters in life IS NOT
matter. When we begin to look through our eyes and not with
them, we enter into a view of life from the perspective of soul.
Insight, to see from within, enables us to encounter death with
hope, with faith, and with love.
As we grow in our capacity to see from within, we enter into the
heart of grief. This emergence into the nature of soul will
sustain us through death and into life - eternal. May the
Creator of us all give us strength for the journey.
Samuel Oliver, author of, "What the Dying Teach Us: Lessons on